Welcome back to part 2 of a mini-series of combo systems posts within In Third Person’s Universal Fighting Game Guide. Part 1 dealt with the elements that make up a combo system in most fighting games, which you can find here. This post will take those fundamental elements and try to outline a process you can use to help you establish a knowledge and execution foundation to build your combo abilities on.
Where to begin
When you are learning the combo systems of a fighting game that is new to you, you’ll want to start slow. At first, you’ll simply want to know what moves connect with each other as a combo and why any given series of moves works as a combo rather than as staccatto attacks that your opponent can react to.
I’d recommend starting out by doing one of two things:
1) Read a gameplay systems guide for the game you’re playing
2) Mess around in training mode to see what does and does not work
If you’re a veteran fighting game player and have a working knowledge of systems like cancels, links and juggles, you may be fine doing step 2 before step 1. In any case, I think that these are the first two steps you should take if you want to take combos seriously.
Where can you find a gameplay systems guide? First off, check the manual. Some manuals are pretty good about explaining the intricacies of their combo systems, while others don’t really have any sort of manual. Some fighting games now have tutorials, but some of them are terrible and most games don’t have a tutorial at all. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift has an awesome tutorial mode, but it’s still worth investing some time to read a gameplay systems guide. Please refrain from skipping straight to the character-specific combo sections of a guide at this point, as memorizing specific combos now is going to stunt your growth if you don’t understand the building blocks that take you to that point.
Your best bet though for finding a gameplay systems guide is online from such major fighting game communities as (but not limited to) Shoryuken, Tekken Zaibatsu and Dustloop. You might also be alright with guides from major sites like IGN or MyCheats. If you’re willing to buy an actual strategy guide, those can be great as well. Just be warned that not all strategy guides are created equal. For instance, the word on the street is that the official Marvel vs. Capcom 3 guide is great, and the official Mortal Kombat strategy guide is not so hot.
Check out the combo sections of these guides and see what systems govern your ability to combo your opponent. Odds are, the game your playing has some sort of mix of elements outlined in the first post, such as cancels, links or juggles. Most games usually have unique names or twists to the core systems in the first post, but the gist of how they work usually is the same. So if you’re playing something like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and you read about an X-Factor cancel, the concept behind how it works is still the same as any cancel in any other game.
Time in the lab
Once you’ve read through the combo portion of the gameplay systems guide, you’ll want to develop a ground-level and practical understanding of how each of the game’s combo systems works. What I like to do is pick a character I’m comfortable with, go to training mode, and explore each element of a combo system individually. For each of the different systems, here are some of the questions I want to answer myself through experimenting in training mode:
– What moves link together?
– How strict in general are the timing of links?
– What is the spacing required for specific link combos to work?
– What initial moves create the most amount of time to link a second move?
– What follow-up moves are quick enough to take advantage of the hit stun from an initial hit?
– What moves don’t link?
– What moves do I think can link but I don’t have the knowledge/execution to connect in a combo?
– What normal moves have the ability to cancel?
– What is the timing and spacing required for specific cancel combos to work?
– When I find a move that can cancel, what can I cancel into?
– Do I need to input a specific command to get something to cancel, such as X-Factor cancelling?
– What sequences of buttons trigger a target combo?
– What state will my character and opposing character be when I’ve completed the combo?
– What are the guidelines that govern what moves chain together?
– What specific inputs trigger a chain combo?
– When I find a chain combo, what variants of it can I create?
– Can I chain from normal moves to special moves?
– What moves trigger a juggle state?
– What moves can take advantage of a juggled opponent?
– How long of a combo can I string together before damage scaling really matters?
– Can I find shorter combos that do more damage and are less affected by damage scaling?
Hit Stun Scaling
– How long can I carry a combo before hit stun scaling makes it impossible to continue?
– How can I work around hit stun to keep a combo going long enough to get the damage I want?
– What can I do to stop a combo breaker?
– What can I do to minimize the damage a combo breaker will do when it’s triggered?
This sounds like a very clinical process, but that isn’t necessarily the case. I don’t write up a physical check-list to track my progress, but I mess around in training mode with different moves and scenarios to see what works, what doesn’t and understand why a certain outcome occurred when I inputted a series of moves. By the end of this process, you should have a base-level working knowledge of each combo system as an isolated unit.
Putting it all together
This is where the magic happens. You’ve put in the time to learn each combo system in a silo. You’ve probably already come up with a few short combos based on each system. Now it’s time to put it all together. The majority of combos you’ll ever execute will contain any combination of links, chains, cancels, target combos and or juggles. With the knowledge you have from the previous step, try and take those short combos you created yourself in the above step and connect them together. Remember that link combo? Maybe the end hit of that link combo can cancel into something else. Maybe the special move you cancelled into causes your opponent to go into a juggle state, which allows you to hit them in the air. Even at this point, I would refrain from consulting a guide to read combos. You’re better off making your own combos with your new-found knowledge of how all the pieces work.
Once you have a few combos, get creative. Can you find a way to start a combo differently? A way to end it differently? A way that puts you in a good position to get another good opening for a combo? Can you make the combo better by using a move that requires super meter? There are so many considerations you can take, and they’re all fun to take if your base understanding of the combo systems are sound. At this point, go nuts. Let your creativity run free and see what you can come up with.
I believe that if you’ve gone through this initial process properly, you’ll be able to create combos without having to hit any buttons or see anything on screen. Your base knowledge of the systems should be good enough that you can come up with a combo in your head, try it out in the game, and it will actually work. That level of understanding will make you a much better player in the long run, because you’ll have an easier time understanding the context for what you’re doing and have the creativity to come up with better combos, either in training mode or under pressure during a match. After you’ve got a good grasp on the basic combo systems and have the ability create combos on your own, I’d then recommend you check out guides that outline specific combos, as you’ll be ready to understand what those combos are, what they’re good for and why they work.
– Read a combo systems guide first before researching any specific combos
– Experiment in training mode to help you understand how each portion of the combo system works
– Once you understand each portion of the combo system, put all your thinking together to help you create longer combos
– Having a good grasp on the basics of the systems will make you a better player in the long run
That closes it out for combo systems. If you have any questions or comments, voice them in the comments section!